Atlantic City, New Jersey (AP) — For the first time in the 30-year history of legalized gambling in Atlantic City, gamblers aren’t allowed to smoke while playing the slots or table games.
A temporary smoking ban took effect Wednesday morning in the 11 casinos. The ban is due to last for at least 12 days but could then be put on hold for a year if the mayor signs a measure delaying it.
The ban went into effect at the stroke of midnight — a little too abruptly for Helen Hanley of Cranston, R.I. She was gambling at Resorts Atlantic City, one of two casinos in the city that did not set up smoking lounges.
„I was sitting in the smoking section, had the ashtray, and a cleaning guy just came and took it,“ she said. „I said, ‚Excuse me, can I have that?'“
Hanley said the employee simply said „No. … No explanation, no nothing. They just took ‚em all off the floor.“
In April, the council passed a law banning smoking from the entire casino floor, but allowed casinos to set up enclosed smoking lounges away from slot machines and table games.
Owners of the city’s 11 casinos recently pushed for a year’s delay, noting the crashing economy and plunging revenues. The city council agreed, but procedural delays prevented it from approving the deadline change in time to stop the ban from going into effect Wednesday.
„I have a feeling they’re going to lose even more business,“ Hanley said. „I’m not coming back here if there’s no smoking.“
But Sylvia Burns of Cedar Falls, Iowa was enjoying her first visit to Atlantic City precisely because of the lack of cigarette smoke in the air.
„It’s delightful to have the air clean and fresh,“ she said.
Casino workers said they also appreciated a breath of fresh air in the gambling halls.
Gary Noa, a dealer at Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, started his shift around 4 a.m. Wednesday — four hours after the last cigarettes were snuffed out.
„It was one of the greatest nights I’ve seen in the casino business,“ he said. „I was able to go to work and breathe fresh air.“
Vince Rennich, a former dealer at the Tropicana Casino and Resort, blames the lung cancer he developed on breathing in secondhand smoke from gamblers over more than two decades. He said he never thought he would actually see the day when no one could smoke in an Atlantic City casino.
„I was hoping and praying, but I figured they’d manage to take it away from us at the last minute,“ he said. „We did it. It’s monumental. It’s huge. No one thought this could happen.“
Karen Blumenfeld, executive director of the New Jersey Group Against Smoking Pollution, urged employees to fight to make the smoking ban permanent.
„When the powers that be see how successful smoke-free gaming is in Atlantic City, there’s no turning back,“ she said at a casino workers rally Wednesday afternoon.
But Trump Entertainment Resorts Chief Executive Mark Juliano said Asian gamblers appeared to abandon the games at the Taj Mahal Casino Resort’s Asian pit once they couldn’t light up.
„The Asian pits are empty,“ he said at 3 p.m. „I mean empty. There’s 15 games in the Asian pit and by this time of day, they’re usually all open. We have two games open right now. They’re from New York, and now they’re going to go to Connecticut where they can smoke.“
Indian-run casinos in Connecticut do not restrict smoking, and slots parlors in Pennsylvania have a partial smoking ban.
Gamblers appeared to be heeding the signs early Wednesday morning in several casinos. No smoking signs were prominently displayed at entrances, as well as atop each bank of slot machines.